By Kevin Fishbain, Pro Football Weekly
Rookies are simply better, or teams are making sounder selections, but the amount of first-round busts — judged by rookie-year performances — is low this season.
The top two picks have more than lived up to their lofty expectations, and many others have exceeded theirs. Several high-profile rookies who have underperformed were also hampered by injuries.
With only two weeks left in the regular season, it’s a good time to look back at the preseason Rookie Meter and see why some players that had the hype in early September won’t be found on the season’s final rankings. This also serves as a reminder that the Rookie Meter does put more weight on numbers, as we try to help predict Rookie of the Year winners, and you won’t win it without putting up the stats. Sorry, Matt Kalil.
Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon (preseason Rookie Meter rank: 7) — We knew that the quarterback concerns in Jacksonville could keep Blackmon, a prolific college receiver, from a stellar rookie season. He was the clear-cut top rookie wideout entering the season, and he is second among rookies in receptions and third in receiving yards, but Blackmon’s slow start has kept him off the meter. Through six weeks, Blackmon had only 14 catches for 126 yards. With Chad Henne at the helm, though, Blackmon has started to thrive.
Giants RB David Wilson (preseason rank: 10) — Like Blackmon, Wilson is coming on strong of late, and he had a huge game replacing Ahmad Bradshaw in Week 14. But a fumble in Week One put Wilson in the doghouse, and other rookie backs Alfred Morris and Vick Ballard have been much more productive. Wilson has shown his skills on kickoff returns and appears to have a bright future, but he is well behind the top rookie backs.
Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne (preseason rank: on the cusp) — Rarely can a defensive back haul in defensive rookie honors, and Claiborne has had a fine year, but his numbers (five passes defensed, one interception) pale in comparison to the top rookie corner, Casey Hayward. His fumble-return touchdown was his biggest play of the season, but he has had some struggles with penalties and in coverage. Expect much more from Claiborne in Year Two.
Chargers LB Melvin Ingram, Seahawks DE Bruce Irvin and Texans LB Whitney Mercilus (preseason rank: on the cusp) — These pass rushers get lumped together because limited snaps have kept their production down, but we’ve seen the talent. Ingram has started to see more playing time, but he has only half a sack and four TFLs. Early on, it appeared Irvin would try for an Aldon Smith-like season of giant sack numbers, but his production slowed. He still has eight sacks and 17 QB hits as a situational pass rusher. Mercilus has also impressed in the last few games, with six sacks on the year, but not enough to pass some of the every-down linebackers on the list.
Colts TE Coby Fleener (preseason rank: on the cusp) — Teams continue to search for the next Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, and Fleener was the top tight end in the draft and wound up paired with his college QB, Andrew Luck. Fleener missed time with injuries and fellow rookies TE Dwayne Allen and WR T.Y. Hilton have been more productive.
Patriots DE Chandler Jones, Buccaneers SS Mark Barron and Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower were also all in the preseason rookie rankings, and find themselves “on the cusp” at the end of the season. Jones was the early favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year before an ankle injury. Barron has been a hard hitter in the Bucs’ back end, but he has had limitations in coverage. Hightower is playing very well in the last couple games, but he also dealt with injuries earlier in the campaign.
A common trend with the aforementioned players is that none of them is considered bust-worthy. Injuries, limited snaps and rookie stumbles have contributed to a lack of production, and let's not forget that many of the top rookies are overachieving.
The initial list was pretty good, though (pats self on the back). Six of the top eight players in the preseason Rookie Meter are still here as we enter the final two weeks of the season.